A spring awakening for wildlife on our reserves

Harry Hog

Our Trust promoter Harry Hog is back out and about at some of our best reserves for spring. Find out what to look out for when you visit

It's wonderful being back out and about talking to people about our Trust's ongoing work to protect nature, and finally being able to visit some of our many nature reserves has been a joy. The weather has been a little temperamental to say the least and as I write this, towards the end of May, it seems like we’re back in early March!

Despite the roller-coaster conditions, there has been much wildlife for us all to enjoy since we came out of lockdown - not least the arrival of spring bird migrants: always a fabulous time of year. The beautiful songs of many warbler species have been gracing every tree and shrub it would seem. Blackcaps, chiffchaffs, willow warblers and whitethroats all singing relentlessly - even the sound of the rarer grasshopper warbler reeling its distinctive sound at Summer Leys nature reserve in Northamptonshire. This could be heard from the car park, a real bonus for me as I spent the day chatting to many visitors.  

Also at Summer Leys, one of our top wetland reserves, I enjoyed the sight of black tailed godwit and spotted redshank; both males in full breeding plumage. I was also lucky enough to see the rare visit of a stunning blue-headed yellow wagtail. Quite an amazing start to my first week back on the road!

Still at the 'Leys and one of the top highlights surely has been the arrival of incredible numbers of hobbies. These falcons, on some days ten or more, descended on the reserve to feast on the flying insects like the mayflies, which they’d pounce on in flight and eat on the wing. It was like watching a combat air display as they whizzed around commanding the air with their aerobatic prowess. In amongst them were the swifts, swallows and martins all competing for the bonanza of newly emerged food. The best days were those with low cloud cover as this pushed the insects down and meant the birds were flying low and hard to catch them, often just above the water surface. Certainly tricky birds to photograph and in flight, reaching speeds well in excess of 70mph! Sadly the large numbers of hobbies have moved on now, although expect to see a few birds drop in from time to time, especially as the dragonflies (their favourite food) start to appear. Swifts are showing up in good numbers though and there is always the odd surprise like the black tern and purple heron this week.

Although butterflies have been thin on the ground due to the cooler wet weather, a recent trip to Brampton Wood revealed a few species including this painted lady, also green veined white, brimstone, speckled wood and orange tip. Once it warms up they’ll be out en masse - I can’t wait. 

Whilst at Brampton it gave me a chance to check on the wonderful spectacle of the bluebells and they were certainly looking at their stunning best. They all came in to bloom a little later this year due in part to the strange weather and the dry April, however the recent rains kept them hanging on for a bit longer. There were lots and lots of bluebell visitors, not just at Brampton, but at our other woods too, like Waresely and Lady’s Wood. It is fantastic that so many people are out enjoying our natural world, and after the last year, hopefully people will be valuing nature a lot more, and it’s now time for the beautiful orchids on many of our reserves, so check out Fulbourn Fen and Brampton which will look glorious soon.

Grey wagtail with beak stuffed with insects

Harry Hog

Apart from the birdsong to enjoy, there has been the busy nest building and raising of young chicks to observe. I was amazed at Trumpington Meadows to see how many flies a female grey wagtail could get in her beak as she made repeated trips back to the nest to feed hungry mouths. Nature never ceases to amaze you. 

There are so many incredible places to visit locally, our three county Wildlife Trust manages over 100 reserves nearby and supporting our work makes a huge difference in helping us protect these special habitats for now and the future. If you’re not already, please consider becoming a member, it’s so important for us all.